A Michelin star, an Olympic medal and a bestseller: SA's young chefs are hot stuff
Chefs Mogau Seshoene, Sifiso Chiziane and Jean Delport tell us about their inspiring journeys and remarkable achievements
MOGAU SESHOENE AKA LAZY MAKOTI
Celebrity chef, cookery teacher and cookbook author, 31 years old
I remember the day well, a couple of years back. It was Mandela Day, July 18, and I'd entered a business incubator competition where entrepreneurs were invited to pitch their new business ideas. I ended up winning it and a R100,000 cash prize. It was my ticket to a new career in food and I used it to pay for a year at culinary school.
I was working as an auditor and teaching friends how to cook in my spare time and the kitchen became my happy place. I quit my job and my comfortable lifestyle to spend a year at a culinary school.
My first cookbook, The Lazy Makoti's Guide to the Kitchen, has just gone into the seventh reprint. I'm so excited and grateful for the success and am working on a second cookbook to be published next year.
The name Lazy Makoti came from teaching cooking to a bride-to-be who didn't want her future in-laws to label her the lazy makoti (the lazy housewife) just because she couldn't cook - and the name stuck.
The red frilly apron I wear is my signature. The first one was designed and made by my mom. She is my biggest inspiration. She is the best cook and an even better baker. The apron is now so popular I'm planning to have it manufactured and sold in retail stores.
I started out my career in food with no real plan of what I wanted to do. My cookery classes have grown so much I now hire a studio for the classes and offer team-building events.
My inspiration comes from my friends and people around me and I see how entrepreneurial young people have become. And, unlike in previous generations, young people of today have more access to create their own opportunities - but one must be one's own driver and not let these opportunities go to waste.
CHEF SIFISO CHIZIANE
Chef, African Pride Hotel, Melrose Arch, Johannesburg, 25 years old
One of the greatest days in my life happened late last year. I graduated and received my diploma in cookery from Prue Leith College on the government's National Youth Chefs Training Programme (NYCTP) and on the same day was asked if I wanted to go to Germany and step in and be part of the Team SA who were heading to the Culinary Olympics in Stuttgart, which happened in February this year. I'd never been overseas, so it was going to be my first time on a plane and luckily I had a passport!
After school I wanted to join the military but ended up doing two months of engineering before I quit that because it wasn't for me. Then I worked at a large supermarket for two years as a shelf packer and cooked meals for the night shift team. This cooking thing has been following me ever since.
The NYCTP allows me to work four days a week and one day is spent at college. African Pride Hotel is where I've worked for the last three years and it is my home. I'm very fortunate to be mentored by executive chef Adrian Vigus-Brown, who is dedicated to guiding young trainees. It was Chef Adrian's recommendation that got me into the Culinary Olympic team, where I started out as their pot washer in the training sessions.
During lockdown the hotel has been closed and I've used my cooking skills to make an income by running a mobile kota/bunny chow and chicken take-away business. Everyone loves the chicken wings I make. I like trying out new things and every Friday I try a new idea and ask for feedback. Last week is was burgers.
At the hotel I've had the opportunity to mentor trainees and always ask them if they really want to be a chef. Cheffing is a good career yet not as glamorous as many like to think it is. You have to be dedicated and passionate about food and understand that once you're in the industry there's little life outside of work. You have to learn how to work in a team and that you are only as good as the team. What keeps me going is the opportunity to make people happy with my food. A job is not always about the money.
I'm very proud of my chef's jackets: my African Pride work one, the Prue Leith NYCTP jacket, and the Culinary Olympics jacket - the one I treasure most.
EXECUTIVE CHEF JEAN DELPORT
Restaurant Interlude, Leonardslee Gardens, Sussex, UK, 32
If I could turn back the clock I think I'd like to go back to the time I was at high school in the Cape. It feels like it was a stress-free period of my life and around the same time my interest in cooking started. I was cooking at home and really enjoying it. It got me thinking about why some things I made didn't work out - and this is when I started reading up about food.
I studied to be a chef at Zevenwacht Culinary School in the Winelands under chef Tim Woodford, the same institution chef Jan Hendrik, the first South African chef to receive a Michelin star, studied at a few years earlier. It was here where I first learnt about Michelin stars. Fascinated, I knew then it was something I wanted really badly and it has always been one of my goals to achieve. As Michelin is not recognised in SA, when I was offered an opportunity to move to the UK, I knew my wife (we work in the restaurant together) and I had to do it.
At Leonardslee the 100 hectares of garden is my pantry. Having grown up on a farm it is ideal to be able to get outside and forage, collect eggs from the chickens and honey from the hives. We have our own pigs and harvest deer on the estate and make our own biltong.
At Interlude restaurant we are a brigade of seven chefs and seat between 22-32 guests at a time, offering two menus of multi courses. It's a blind tasting experience where you don't get to know what you are eating beforehand. It's all about surprise and the idea is to take you on a journey around the estate sharing the gathered, foraged and wild food.
We were quite surprised that in the first 10 months of operating we were recognised by Michelin. I burst into tears when we received an e-mail inviting us to a gala dinner in London where we learnt we'd been awarded our first Michelin star. At the event, watching some of the top chefs in the world - some I've been following for years - walking through the doors like it was just a normal thing, it was a surreal experience. It was something we never would have dreamt of when we had just started out just 10 months earlier. Unbelievable really. It takes lots of hard work and the pressure is on to maintain it.
Looking back, when I started out in the cheffing industry I didn't really know what I was getting into. My advice for anyone starting out is to be fully interested in what you are about to get into, it must be a real passion you are following. Cheffing is not a job, it's a lifestyle in an industry that is about very hard work - and can be rewarding too.